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Yuu Vees

is 2nd edition of "knights" only in Arabic?


With respect, American academicians have been trying to understand Muslim militancy, for at least two generations. And there is, I'd suggest, an institutional context for their work: in departments of history, religious studies, area studies. I'm looking at a dozen shelves full of books on the subject right now, from all the standard academic presses.

While work on militancy is not as widespread as economic or diplomatic history, it's certainly respected. Based on what I've seen, getting a tenure-track position is no harder than any other subfield.

On the other hand, the majority of academicians probably don't think it possible to understand militancy apart from an intimate knowledge of its context. This is why they tend to be pretty dismissive of the typical War College thesis.

Take Zawahiri, for instance. He's well-read, articulate, and participating in political debates ongoing since the early decades of the 20th c. He's also engaged in a lively dialogue with an ancient legal tradition and its modern interpreters. At the same time, Zawahiri grows out of a particular moment in Egyptian history and lived a life that intersected with momentous regional changes.

For such reasons, work on Zawahiri simply cannot be undertaken without an intimate knowledge of a whole lot of other things. You've got to know your fiqh, the Brotherhood, the Nasserites, the sahwa, and so on. This is why, too, graduate programs are structured as they are.

I suspect the problem is not so much that the academy is not interested in militancy. Rather, they are asking questions about it that don't overlap well with the interests of folks whose jobs are focused on domestic and national security.

At the same time, given the political realities of academia, a sizable portion of researchers may well be more sympathetic to Zawahiri than to folks in the Marine Corps.

If we set such people to one side, I suspect there are still quite a few out there who either don't know that their services are needed or wish they could help, but don't know how to do so.

Others may not work on militancy, but still have unique skills: those who work on medieval Arabic manuscripts, for instance, could do miracles with the Harmony documents -- after they stopped shouting about the work done by the translators supplied by Hamas, and laughing at the work of poor Mo, who translates by day and stocks shelves at 7-11 by night.

(I'm still wondering which of the two gravely noted re one of the documents, that the expression 'worshipers of cows' was possibly a coded reference to a sinister AQ plot, rather than a slur on Hindus.)

Keep in mind, too, that military bases and the wilds of D.C. are as foreign to most academics as the Ottoman archives or the wilds of eastern Turkey are to the average Marine or FBI agent.

Marisa UrgoShaalan

I don't disagree with you, but what I would emphasize is that I see a distinction between the sociological (and ideological) study of militancy, historical and area studies of history, theology, etc AND jihad studies - which is all of those things, but is distinct in its approach - which emphasizes primary source material (in a critical literary approach), contemporary post structuralism (in history, culture and social theory), and sub disciplines of sociology.

"Jihad studies" -- or whatever you want to call it -- is a multi-disciplinary by nature. Think about it. A scholar NEEDS advanced foreign language skills, a strong background in regional history, cultural knowledge, etc. It is qualitative more than quantitative. And though there are thousands of books are radicalism, militant Islam, etc, (I have a many in my library) very few seem to fit into the "jihad studies" mold.

As for the defense/intelligence association - a professional identity would I hope help decouple "jihad studies" from its over-dependence on defense/security funding.

Marisa UrgoShaalan

Yuu vees: Alas, right now, I can only find it in Arabic at (where else?) Archive.org: search "Forsan"


> '"Jihad studies" -- or whatever you want to call it -- is a multi-disciplinary by nature. Think about it. A scholar NEEDS advanced foreign language skills, a strong background in regional history, cultural knowledge, etc.'

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

The prerequisites you describe are, I'd suggest, common to textually-oriented fields in general, modern or pre-modern. They're hard won skills, to be sure, but they're the same skills one needs to do many other types of research, from the history of Scouting in Lebanon in the 1960s, to the intellectual history of Azhar under Nasser.

I don't think method is the basis of the distinction you want to make -- and I admit that there is a distinction, and that it's important.

To illustrate, among more recent works on the Global Jihad, I've learned much from academic works like Lacroix's study on the Sahwa, Brian Williams' articles on Central Asia, Cees Wiebes' history of intelligence during the war in Bosnia, but also from travel narratives, war memoirs, and autobiographies, as well as journalists (broadly defined), such as Hecimovic, Raman, Berger.

I suspect that you'd regard all such contributions as important, and that you read them yourself, but that you'd not classify many of them as Jihad Studies. Perhaps you'd included Raman or Berger. More typical, though, would be the contributions of Fishman & Felter, Lia, Hegghammer, etc.

What then is the difference? I don't think it's one of method, but of granularity, and whether and to what extent one can do something practical with the results. Wiebes, e.g., is an historian, and is concerned with states and their policies more than individual men, their ideas, and their nefarious schemes. Now then, if one is thinking about how best to kill bad guys in Kunar, or arrest them in Durham NC, Wiebes is just not going to help you much. His interests are too abstract, while his subject matter is too stale. For the messy work of daily CT, one needs work that mucks around in the messy details of the lives of guys still alive.

While all this may be true, I don't know if it's terribly useful when one is thinking about how best to foster certain types of research. If one wishes to encourage younger scholars to do more granular research, for instance, I don't think one needs new institutions or new disciplines. Younger scholars have needs that are far more basic, not least, continuing to eat.

1. Publication venues -- peer-reviewed and with U.S. academic presses. The typical CT venues are more likely to be read by more people, but they'll not help in the least with tenure and promotion.

2. Access to data -- Young scholars need to write, a lot, and they don't have a lot of time to collect new data. Without access to sources, there's not much they can write about. So too, if sources are doled out one or two at a time, they can't write fast enough.

DoD and DoJ could do a lot to help. As it is, they sit on their data. DoJ, especially, likely has no idea how much they've seized over the last few decades. But try getting access to it with FOIA, even in cases that stem from the early 1990s.

3. Grant money. Young scholars are poor, usually dirt poor. They also do not typically have access to discretionary research budgets. They must apply for Fulbright and SSRC grants. You can't use that money to do just anything. It's almost always for more traditional, area-studies projects.

If one wants younger scholars to work on other sorts of projects, feed them.



Hi Marisa:

I've been holding back because I consider myself more of a gifted amateur than a fully qualified team member here, lacking the languages that would indeed be very helpful -- but my overall impression is:

(i) that this is an important post, opening what has the potential to be a highly significant discussion,

(ii) that the cross-disciplinarity you mention may make the "target discipline" better suited to what Wittgenstein might call a "family resemblance" definition with overlaps and variegations than to a single definitive formulation, and

(iii) that one of the desiderata for at least some of those in the discipline should be an empathetic understanding of (feeling for) religious (and/or secular 0 fanaticism(s).

On that last point -- I suspect that familiarity with some of the miracle stories associated with the lives of Christian saints, for instance, can give one a sense of the appeal of Azzam's miracle stories collected as _The signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan_ -- see for instance my post "Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad" on Zenpundit:


Jihad, it seems to me, involves passion and dedication, and we must understand that these are far from purely theoretical constructs for many of those those who undertake it, if we are to fully understand them.

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